QPP vows changes following video’s release

Published 9:00 am Sunday, November 15, 2015

By Jason Schoonover, Austin Daily Herald

AUSTIN — The same day Hormel Foods Corp. called on Quality Pork Processors to make changes, the Austin slaughterhouse announced it’s enacting corrective measures after an undercover video at its Austin plant depicted “unacceptable” behavior toward animals.

“We have reviewed the video and are very disappointed by the actions of some employees,” QPP President Kelly Wadding said in a press release Friday. “The actions of these few employees don’t represent the collective culture of animal care that our employees exhibit each and every day at QPP.”

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Compassion Over Killing released video clips Wednesday shot in September and October by a former worker at QPP’s Austin plant, which solely services Hormel. The video shows workers taking “inhumane shortcuts that lead to extreme suffering” to keep the slaughter lines moving, according to Erica Meier, executive director of the Washington-based animal rights group.

On Friday, QPP announced it will further discipline employees who exhibited aggressive behaviors and it will retrain all employees on proper animal handling and conduct, along with several other measures.

“We have taken swift and immediate action to reinforce our high standards and operating procedures in the animal care and welfare areas,” Wadding said in the statement. “We want to assure Hormel Foods and all of its customers that we care about animal welfare, and are committed to taking steps that will bring about positive changes for the industry as a whole. In addition, our Animal Welfare Council is looking at ways to exceed industry standards related to animal welfare and handling.”

Earlier on Friday, Hormel Foods Corp. issued a statement calling the behavior depicted in Compassion Over Killing’s video unacceptable. The company demanded further disciplinary actions, additional animal welfare and handling training, enhanced compliance oversight, and increased third-party auditing at QPP’s plant.

“Our Supplier Responsibility Principles are clear as to our expectations of our suppliers, and the behavior depicted in the undercover video is unacceptable,” Hormel wrote in the statement.

Hormel also said it will place humane handling officers at QPP to ensure compliance with Hormel’s animal welfare standards.

Hormel said it has a “zero tolerance policy for the inhumane treatment of animals” and holds its suppliers to the same high standards. Hormel said it has reviewed the video and will work with QPP and the USDA to take “any necessary corrective action.”

“At Hormel Foods Corp., animal welfare, employee safety and food safety are our top priorities,” the company statement read. “That is why we are extremely disappointed and concerned to see the recently released undercover video detailing instances of aggressive animal handling and employee insensitivity at one of our supplier facilities. These actions do not reflect the values of Hormel Foods, its employees or its customers.”

QPP officials said Wednesday that it had already disciplined two employees, but company leaders didn’t specify what further discipline would be taken. Along with the discipline and additional training, the QPP statement said other corrective actions will include:

•Increasing the review frequency by a third party company of existing 24/7 video monitoring and surveillance

•Increasing third party audits, including additional surprise audits

•Placement of humane handling officers to observe all animal handling in the operation

•Implementation of a confidential hotline for employees to report any actions that do not meet standards for animal care and welfare

•Evaluating and implementing further improvements in animal handling equipment

QPP promised to issue a public report on its progress and additional actions in the next 30 days.

QPP said it has already begun a pilot project to use foam swimming noodles instead of rattle paddles to help facilitate animal movement. The undercover investigator who captured the video at QPP said he witnessed employees using excessive force with paddles and electrical prods to get animals moving through production lines. The investigator also said he saw workers pull or drag pigs by the mouth without them being stunned to keep the animals and production moving

At slaughterhouses like QPP, animals are required to be stunned unconscious before being killed. While the investigator said hogs are supposed to be killed within 60 seconds of being stunned, he said he saw the process take longer, which increases the likelihood animals came to their senses before the process was complete. He said he captured footage of and saw hogs moving to right themselves while they were bleeding out and when they were being dragged to a scalding tank, which he said means an animal may have been alive and conscious during the scalding.

Hormel and QPP’s statements did not address Compassion Over Killing’s concerns over the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) Inspection Models Project (HIMP), an inspection system that involves fewer U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors and quicker processing lines. QPP’s Austin plant is one of a few across the country that’s testing the process.

Compassion continues to call for the USDA to reconsider or cease HIMP, arguing it forces workers to take “inhumane shortcuts.” However, the USDA disputed the pro-vegetarian group’s claim that the faster inspection system was to blame. Adam Tarr, a spokesman for the federal Food Safety and Inspection Service, said that system is being used only farther down the production line, where carcasses are sorted.

Though Compassion Over Killing only released a shortened video online, it said it sent all of its footage to the USDA, which has said it will investigate further if it confirms the video’s authenticity.

Compassion Over Killing also shared the footage with the Austin Police Department, which forwarded the information to the Mower County Attorney’s Office.


—The Associated Press contributed to this report.